In the autumn of 1569 Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland and Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland, rose in rebellion against the English queen, Elizabeth 1 and her government.
Ostensibly the rebellion, to which thousands of men from the north of England flocked in sympathy, was to smash the stranglehold that the Protestant religion, initiated by Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, held over the country of England.
The men of the north of England were true to the old religion, Roman Catholicism.
One more reason existed for the revolt. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, cousin to Elizabeth and with the blood of the House of Tudor, to which Elizabeth belonged, was held under house arrest in Tutbury in Staffordshire in the Midlands of England. She was a staunch adherent of the Catholic cause.
The rebellion sought to establish her right to the English throne.
Yet, whilst Neville and his wife might have aspired to these high ideals, in the case of Thomas Percy there was another agenda, underlying reasons why he wished to rebel against Elizabeth.
Thomas Percy, by the standards of noblemen of the time, was impoverished and felt that he had not been given a fair hand by the English government. Percy found the cost of maintaining his vast estates on Northumberland, Cumberland and North Yorkshire very taxing, yet he was reluctant to give them up.The English government had their eye on his possessions. To remove them from his possession would break the power he had over the northern people.
When copper was found on his estates in Newlands, near Keswick in the English Lake District, he thought that his pecuniary problems were over.
However, the English government, led by Elizabeth’s chief advisor, William Cecil who would become Lord Burghley, heard of the find, they sequestered the mines stating that the proceeds from them were government property. In a further move to wrest power from Percy and remove his patronage at Court, he was removed from the positions of Warden of the Middle and East March.
Thomas Percy, spurned and disregarded, was ripe for rebellion. He would join the cause for re-establishment of the old religion because he adhered to it, thought it right and proper. But there were other reasons.
The Rising of the North as it has come to be known failed miserably and by December 1569 the two earls had fled to Naworth Castle in Cumberland (now part of Cumbria). Its aims were in tatters and, in the aftermath, hundreds of men from the north of England who had joined the cause would die at the end of a noose-often unjustly, purely because they were associated with a town or village which had espoused the cause of the rebel lords.
The two rebel lords with the countess of Northumberland and a small retinue, on the failure of the rebellion, fled to the arms of one of the instigators of the rebellion, Leonard Dacre of Naworth castle, near Brampton in Cumberland.
Dacre had initially been a volatile adherent of the insurrection whilst smarting at his disinheritance of the lands of Greystoke in Cumberland at the hands of the Howards, the most prominent and richest family in the England of the time.
He had proved in the misfortunes of the rebellion to be a turncoat and achieved forgiveness on interview with the sovereign, Elizabeth 1. (Later she was to call him ‘a cankered suttill traitor’) when, still smarting for revenge at the outcome of his bid for inheritance, he raised a small army against the English government but failed and fled after the Battle of the Hellbeck.
Dacre turned the rebel lords away from his door, would have no truck with them, so they headed for Liddesdale in the Scottish Borders. By reputation the Armstrongs, Elliots and Crosers of NALiddesdale had an open invite to anyone on the run from the law. They were extremely lawless themselves and took every opportunity to cock a snoop at both English and Scottish authority. They offered shelter and refuge to all, any man, irrespective of race, be he Scottish or English.
Anne, Countess of Northumberland, was housed with Jock of the Side in the high ground near the Kirk Hill of Newcastleton. Her abode with Jock was described as a hovel ‘not fit for a dog kennel in England’. An observation made by one of the Scottish Lords.
Her husband was taken in by Hector Armstrong of Harelaw between the delightful villages of today of Canonbie and Newcastleton, both in Liddesdale.
Charles Neville was granted sanctuary and refuge at Puddingburn Tower, the home of the ‘Laird’s Jock Armstrong.
Lady Anne Percy would be robbed of her jewelry and horses not by, it is said by some writers, Jock of the Side, but by the Black Ormiston, a fierce Border Reiver, who had previously been implicated in the murder of Henry, Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Lady Anne would suffer great illness in the winter of 1570 but eventually be taken in by the Kerrs of Ferniehurst, themselves Border Reivers behind a facade of respectability which was common for the time. The Kerrs had been at feud with the Percys for years and it is admirable that they put this aside, second to the health and welfare of the Northumbrian countess.
Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland, would eventually escape abroad where he died, destitute, in 1601.
And what of Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland?
Hector Armstrong of Harelaw would eventually ‘shop’ him, arrange through Martin Elliot of Braidley (Teviotdale I think, not Liddesdale) that he was led into an ambush and captured by the Scottish authorities. To take ‘Hector’s cloak’ is still a saying sometimes heard in the Scottish Borders, synonymous with betraying a friend.
Percy was eventually imprisoned in Lochleven castle in Fife, Scotland, where he wallowed for two years whilst negotiations between the Scots and English authorities took their natural tardy course replete with avarice and greed at Percy’s worth to both countries. Throughout this time Lady Anne who had escaped abroad petitioned for his release, endeavoured to raise the funds that could secure that. She succeeded in raising the demands of the Scots but it was to no avail.
On the pretext that Percy was to ride to London to make peace with the English sovereign, Elizabeth 1, he was escorted south.
At an overnight stop in York, he was beheaded in a street known as the Pavement. His head was impaled on the Micklegate of York to be eventually removed a few years later. His headless body was buried in the church of Holy Cross in York, far from his homelands. The church stands no more; the whereabouts of his grave is now unknown.
Micklegate Bar was the most important of York’s four main medieval gateways and the focus for grand events. The name comes from ‘Micklelith’, meaning great street.
It was the main entrance to the city for anyone arriving from the South. At least half a dozen reigning monarchs have passed through this gate and by tradition they stop here to ask the Lord Mayor’s permission to enter the city.
The lower section of the bar dates from the 12th century, the top two storeys from the 14th. The building was inhabited from 1196. Like the other main gates, Micklegate Bar originally had a barbican built on the front, in this case demolished in 1826.
For centuries the severed heads of rebels and traitors were displayed above the gate, the many victims include Sir Henry Purcey (Hotspur) in 1403 and Richard, Duke of York in 1460. The last of the severed heads was removed in 1754.
The Rising of the North by George Thornton. Published by Ergo Press, Hexham, Northumberland.
The Northern Rebellion of 1569 by K.J. Kesselring. Published by Palgrave Macmillan.
Less learned than the first two mentioned but with a definite place in this incident in Northern history there is a chapter in John Graham’s book ‘Condition of the Border at the Union’.